In the hustle of daily urban life, it’s not uncommon to spot vehicles sitting stationary with their engines idly humming. Whether delivering a package, waiting to pick up someone, stuck in traffic, or just taking a momentary pause, many drivers don’t think twice about leaving their engines running. However, this seemingly innocuous habit, known as vehicle idling, carries a hidden cost that is far from benign. With each turn of the engine, harmful pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter are spewed into the air we breathe, contributing to a growing public health and environmental crisis.
In this article, explain what exactly idling is, explain the facts, and look at common myths about idling and the economic and environmental impacts it has. We’ll also give you a few tips to save money and the environment by reducing idling in your personal car or in your vehicle fleet.
A 2021 Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) study showed that each year an estimated 36,000 UK residents die prematurely because of air pollution-related diseases.
The TRL study also found that leaving your engine idling for as little as 30 seconds causes twice as much air pollution than when switching off your car and restarting it.
Air pollution is one of Britain’s most concerning public health risks. Contributing to an increase in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, air pollution is something that we desperately need to tackle – one way of doing this is through reducing vehicle idling.
What is Idling?
Idling is when you allow your car’s engine to run while the vehicle isn’t moving.
It’s common for millions of UK drivers to leave their engine idling when waiting at a traffic light or stuck in stationary traffic. Many drivers also let their cars idle on cold mornings to warm up their engines.
Though it may seem harmless, idling causes fuel losses, produces harmful exhaust emissions and contributes to air pollution and global warming.
In fact, London drivers face fines if caught idling their stationary vehicles. Offenders receive a fixed penalty notice of £20. If they fail to pay this penalty, the fine increases to £40 after 28 days.
Is Idling Illegal?
Idling is illegal in many cities around the world.
In London, for example, it’s illegal to idle your car for long periods. The City of London’s Idling Control By-law (PH-15) makes it punishable to idle your motor vehicle for more than two minutes. Motorists face a fine if they transgress this by-law.
No-idling zones are designated areas where idling is prohibited. There are also many no-idling zones around many of the country’s hospitals, schools, and care homes.
These zones are active in many of our major cities’ busiest streets to eliminate idling and improve air quality.
Common Myths about Idling
There are many myths that drivers believe about idling, including:
- It benefits the car’s engine. In fact, leaving your engine idling for long periods adds to your engine’s wear and tear.
- It saves fuel. Actually, because the engine is running – even though the vehicle isn’t moving – the engine still burns fuel.
- Idling doesn’t harm the environment. In reality, the car still produces and releases harmful exhaust gases. These emissions reduce air quality and add to the worrying air pollution and climate change levels experienced in the UK.
The Consequences of Idling
Though not immediately apparent, idling has a lot of negative consequences. Let’s delve deeper into some of the impacts.
When idling, your car’s engine produces and releases harmful gases and toxins into the atmosphere, including:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2): This is a greenhouse gas and contributes to increasing global temperatures. Large amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere can also cause the acidification of the world’s oceans.
- Carbon monoxide (CO): This is very toxic to humans, animals, and plants.
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2): High quantities of NOx and SO2 in the air contribute to smog, while SO2 also forms acids that lead to engine corrosion.
The air pollution caused by harmful exhaust emissions can lead to disease, causing cancer, dementia, and lung and heart disease.
Public Health England estimates show that air pollution causes between 28,000 and 36,000 premature deaths in the UK annually, with engine idling contributing significantly.
One of the policies attempting to tackle the health risks caused by air pollution is the introduction of London’s ULEZ zone, which discourages high-polluting vehicles in the capital. Interestingly, UK government estimates show that, since the introduction of London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in 2019, there has been:
- An almost 50% reduction in NOx pollution levels in central London.
- A five times faster reduction in air pollution levels in London (between 2016 and 2020).
- More than 1 million potential hospital admissions averted (by 2050).
These encouraging figures show that policies can make a major difference to air pollution from vehicles. Less encouragingly, however, since the introduction of Westminster Council’s “report it” website, only 0.1% of drivers reported for idling have been fined. It’s clear that in addition to people taking individual action to idle less, anti-idling policies need to be stepped up.
Idling isn’t only bad for the environment and your health – it burns a hole in your pocket. Studies have shown that your vehicle may use up to an extra gallon of fuel for every hour it stands idling.
The TRL study (mentioned above) notes that a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) can burn an estimated 21.7g of fuel for every 60 seconds the engine is left running. It amounts to 3p worth of fuel wasted in one minute.
Need a practical way to reduce your fleet drivers’ idling habits? We’ve got you covered.
Crystal Ball’s Driver Behavior Analysis Tool
One solution is to use Crystal Ball’s driver behaviour analysis tool to reduce unnecessary idling in your fleet.
These state-of-the-art vehicle tracking devices use GPS tracking to monitor fleet vehicles. They can immediately alert fleet managers if tracked vehicles are idling longer than necessary.
The vehicle tracking system also calculates driver scores and identifies and addresses other issues such as speeding, harsh braking, and cornering. This makes it easy to identify when drivers need additional training.
You can also use these strategies to reduce idling in your fleet:
- Driver training programs. These programs educate drivers on the harmful effects of stationary idling and vehicle emissions and how they can eliminate the problem.
- Telematics tools. Use a vehicle tracker to identify and track drivers who leave their vehicles idling for too long. Vehicle trackers are also great for monitoring fuel consumption and route utilisation. Another benefit of tracking devices is that they aid fleet management and boost vehicle security. They also allow easier tracking and recovery of a stolen vehicle.
- Vehicle stop-start systems. These handy systems automatically turn off the car’s engine when stationary. They automatically restart your engine when the vehicle starts moving again. It’s a great tool to eliminate idling and reduce fuel usage.
Though it seems harmless, idling has a range of negative consequences, including wasting fuel and money and harming the environment. Idling also leads to air pollution that can cause diseases such as heart and lung disease and cancer.
To address and tackle idling in your fleet, contact Crystal Ball today to learn more about our state-of-the-art vehicle tracking systems to help monitor and track idling in your fleet.